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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Chapter 16

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 16 of Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Chapter 16 | Summary



Jim is anxious to get to Cairo and looks forward to being free. Huck recognizes that he is the reason that Jim will be free, and he feels guilty about it. Huck questions what Jim's rightful owner, Miss Watson, ever did that he should hurt her by helping her slave escape. Jim talks about earning money to buy his family's freedom or having abolitionists kidnap them if the owners refuse to sell. This upsets Huck, and he decides that he is going to give Jim up when he goes ashore.

When Huck goes off to check if they have reached Cairo, Jim calls out that Huck is his only friend and one who keeps promises. These declarations make Huck uncertain about how to act. While approaching land Huck comes across men in a boat who are looking for escaped slaves. When asked about the raft, Huck makes up a story that his parents have smallpox. The story scares the men, and they give Huck money and leave.

When Huck returns to the raft Jim thanks him profusely, as he heard the whole exchange. They look for Cairo but do not see it. Later Huck goes ashore to check where they are and discovers they have completely passed Cairo. Their canoe gets lost. To make matters worse, a steamboat comes along and destroys the raft. In order to escape harm Huck and Jim jump. They are separated, and Huck ends up on shore surrounded by a pack of dogs.


Huck faces a severe moral dilemma as his role in Jim's escape dawns on him. While he has come to recognize Jim's many fine qualities, Huck has been brought up in a society where slavery is what is right. Huck does not make the laws or the customs but is a product of them. To help Jim escape goes against everything Huck was taught as a child and will harm Miss Watson, who has always been good to him. There seems to be no right answer for Huck.

Just as Huck decides to turn Jim in, an opportunity presents itself for him to do just that. Instead Huck lies in order to save Jim. Naturally and without thinking Huck is drawn to helping Jim and ensuring his escape. His own sense of injustice seems to win over the conditioning he has had by society.

Ironically the town that is the key to reach—and thereby and obtain Jim's freedom—is Cairo. In the Bible the Jews are enslaved to the Egyptians. The capital of Egypt is Cairo. The goal of the Jews was to escape Cairo. The Jews experienced a number of miracles that enabled them to escape their bondage. One of the miracles was the parting of the sea, which allowed the Jews to finally leave Cairo and the Egyptians behind. For Jim, Cairo represents the opposite. Reaching Cairo and getting to the Ohio River will mean he is in the free states. Twain seems to be winking at past enslavements of people. In this case it is Huck who plays the role of Moses, and he is trying to part the seas and lead Jim to freedom.

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